Have you ever wondered, “How did I let it get so bad? How did I not see that it was creating such a mess in my life earlier?” If so, don’t be so hard on yourself. In fact, alcoholics lie to themselves as a function of human nature.
I started worrying about how much I drank almost as soon as I started drinking. It didn’t blare at me like a neon sign. Rather it felt like an ant crawling on my arm that I could brush off with a flick of my hand. I did a lot of brushing in those days.
I reasoned that I could never become an alcoholic because I had gastric bypass. My stomach wouldn’t hold as much as needed to develop a drinking problem, even though pre-surgery research told me that many gastric bypass patients become alcoholics.
Instead, I attributed my alcohol problems to an inability to regulate my drinking because of the surgery. One drink would immediately give me a buzz. My body, however, would process that drink so quickly that 20 minutes later, I had lost that good feeling. Sometimes I could drink seven or eight drinks a night. Other times, I only needed one or two to get me over the limit. On one occasion I had one drink, and I found myself passed out on a bench by 9:00.
A Warped Understanding of Alcoholism
My naivety helped me distort what I understood about alcohol. I rarely drank and had gotten drunk only once during my teen years. Otherwise, I didn’t drink at all until well into adulthood.
At the same time, I had a lifetime of experience with alcoholics. My mother, who didn’t drink much, attached to men who did, so I spent a lot of time around men who drank lots of beer daily, often starting at noon. This was my understanding of alcoholism…
Of course, I didn’t like beer so not a problem, right?
When I started wondering whether or not I had a drinking problem, I made my assumptions about alcoholism based on what I knew. This made it easy to tell myself lies and manipulate the truth to suit my needs. What I needed, what we all believe we need, is to be right.
We want to be right. It’s part of human nature, but to do that we select truths that suit us while our brains filter out truths that don’t. For example, I told myself crazy stuff to justify the misconception that I wasn’t an alcoholic. Here are a few of them…
I Don’t Drink Near as Much as an Alcoholic
In my mind, an alcoholic drank anywhere from a 12 to 18-pack of beer a night. I judged my alcohol intake based on quantity, not alcohol content. Additionally, I also neglected the differences in males and females as well as my having a digestive system that had been modified by gastric bypass. Unable to finish one carbonated soft drink, I reasoned that I couldn’t drink a 6-pack, much less more.
I Don’t Drink Nightly
The people in my past drank every night starting at the end of their workday (or noon on the weekend). Eventually, I did become a nightly drinker, but in the early days, I only drank on weekends. As a result, I dismissed alcoholism as a problem.
I Only Need It to Cope
Women are from Venus. Men are from Mars, right? Growing up, I never heard one man say, “I’m so stressed out. I need a glass of wine.” For me, however, stress was a great excuse to drink. Little did I know that while the men I knew didn’t use those words, they likely subconsciously used alcohol consumption to cope. Furthermore, a dependency on alcohol as a coping mechanism is a common sign of alcoholism.
Why Alcoholics Lie to Themselves
As a woman who drank hard liquor, judging my problem based on my experience with men who drank beer made it easy for me to lie to myself. How much I drank and what happened to me when I drank was never going to compare to the examples I used as my barometer. As for the hard liquor, I rationalized it similarly to the way many people do when they decide to switch to beer. I ignored the fact that alcohol produces the same results regardless of how it’s delivered.
I used confirmation bias and motivational reasoning to dismiss alcohol as the cause of most of my problems. In fact, most alcoholics lie to themselves in the same way.
Using confirmation bias, I distorted the facts to agree with what I wanted to believe. A confirmation bias means you affirm information and ideas that support your beliefs while dismissing the ones that counter them. It’s human nature to want to affirm your beliefs as “right”. In fact, according to an article in “Harvard Business Review,” confidence (knowing you are right) was hardwired into our brains as early as the stone age. As a result, the article states, “The legacy of this dynamic is that human beings put confidence before realism and work hard to shield themselves from any evidence that would undermine their mind games.”
In addition, I unconsciously used motivated reasoning to justify my drinking. In other words, I wanted to continue drinking, so I chose rationality that would confirm my desire to do so as “right.” If I had other motivations that depended on sobriety, I might have made other choices. “Psychology” website explains this noting that, “smokers engage in motivated reasoning when they dispel scientific evidence that suggests that smoking is bad for one’s health.” To rationalize my motivation to continue drinking, I ignored facts that suggested I had a problem. These facts included drinking blackouts and the blaring evidence that my life was out of control.
Many alcoholics lie to themselves because of confirmation biases and motivated reasoning to dismiss the damage alcohol has done to their lives and support their addiction. If you do the same, you have company.
Take on a “Scout Mindset”
In order to see the truth, you sometimes need to take on a “scout mindset”. According to Julia Galef, co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality, a “scout mindset” is “the drive not to make one idea win or another lose, but just to see what’s really there as honestly and accurately as you can, even if it’s not pretty or convenient or pleasant.” Someone with a “scout mindset” is curious, able to test their beliefs, and has self-worth that doesn’t interfere with their willingness to be wrong.
How to Test Your Beliefs about Alcohol
When alcoholics lie to themselves about drinking, they should take on that “scout mindset, ” so they can see the truth. To do this, take on the role of an unbiased observer or someone who has no real stake in the outcome. Alternatively, you can also take on the role of a loved one who wants you to overcome your alcohol use, but you may dismiss their perspective citing their confirmation bias or motivated reasoning. The perspective of a stranger who has neither gains nor losses from your decision to drink might have a more convincing stance for you.
Imagine you are a stranger looking in, someone who doesn’t have a vested interest in whether or not you continue to drink. Make some notes about your drinking habit from their perspective. Then with a “scout mindset,” get curious asking yourself these questions:
- Do you have health, family, legal, career, or financial problems because of your drinking? Do you continue to drink anyway? Why?
- Have you created rules around your drinking to try to control how much you drink? Do the rules change as they are broken?
- Do you ask yourself, I wonder if I have a drinking problem? Would someone without a drinking problem have a reason to ask this question?
From the perspective of another person, do the answers to any of these questions sound like someone who has a drinking problem?
Are You Ready to End the Insanity?
When alcoholics lie to themselves, they don’t only harm themselves, but they hurt the people who love them too. The best way to stop this is by gathering information about what it means to have a dependence on alcohol.
If alcohol has a hold on you but you aren’t sure what it means to be an alcoholic, you can get the information you need about alcoholism in my FREE “Back To Ground Zero” email course. It includes seven days of motivational emails with videos and a workbook with activities to help you gain understanding. You can learn more about the course and sign up by clicking here.